In red-state Texas, new signs of rising Democratic tide
The drawn-out fight for a Democratic presidential nominee is driving left-leaning Texans into the open, infusing them with a sense of relevance for the first time in a generation.
Sugar Land, Texas
For most of his life Ken Stubbe has voted for Democrats for president. But as a resident of a deeply Republican suburb of Houston, in the heart of Bush country, the retired oil and gas project manager kept quiet.Skip to next paragraph
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He didn't talk politics with neighbors or friends. He didn't sink presidential campaign signs in his lawn. He sometimes even voted in Republican primaries, often because no Democrats were running in local races and, well, why waste his vote?
"I just kind of accepted that living here in Texas, that's the way it was," he says.
But the drawn-out fight for the Democratic presidential nomination is driving left-leaning Texans like Mr. Stubbe out of the closet, infusing them with a sense of relevance for the first time in a generation. Ahead of the Texas primary Tuesday, they are wearing buttons, putting up signs, and volunteering, even in GOP redoubts like this well-to-do city southwest of Houston.
Most significantly, as party activists see it, Texas Democrats are emerging from the shadows to vote. Democratic turnout at early-voting stations statewide is nearly four times 2004 levels and is exceeding Republican turnout even in the conservative Dallas and Houston suburbs.
Here in Fort Bend County, a Republican stronghold represented until recently by Rep. Tom DeLay (R), the former House majority leader, Democratic turnout for early voting is 19 times greater than it was in 2004.
This month, Stubbe went to classes on caucusing and delegate selection, discreetly scouted for Democrats in his leafy subdivision, and called the local party to volunteer as an election clerk on March 4. On Wednesday, he picked up a sign at a newly opened Barack Obama campaign office here, determined to plant it next to the Hillary Rodham Clinton sign his wife Karen had put up beside the driveway a few days earlier.
"There's history being made and people just want to participate," Stubbe says.
The outpouring has caught Democratic activists by surprise, mostly because the nomination fight was supposed to be settled long before it reached the Lone Star State. But an indecisive Super Tuesday has made Texas, with 193 delegates at stake, a crucial battleground for the first time since 1988.
A surge of funds, volunteers
Democratic officials see voters' fervor as a sign that the pendulum may be swinging left after a decade and a half of Republican rule that began with George W. Bush's election as governor in 1994. The weeks since Super Tuesday have seen a surge in volunteering and political donations, they say, including $300,000 the state party raised at a $50-a-head event the night of last week's presidential debate in Austin.
"There is a recognition by Democratic activists, donors, and elected officials that there's a real opportunity here, and we have to be the kind of organized party that can take advantage of it," says Amber Moon, a spokeswoman for the Texas Democratic Party.
Because party officials can obtain lists of voters in primaries – but not in general elections – a key windfall will be a long list of new targets for phone calls, mailers, and get-out-the-vote drives.
"These people then become your precinct captains, your volunteers, sometimes your campaign managers, sometimes your candidates," says Matt Angle, director of the Texas Democratic Trust, a political action committee founded in 2005 to help rebuild the ailing state party.